Climbers Missing On ‘Killer Mountain’, Pakistan Presumed Dead But Active GPS Signals Show They Could Be Potentially Alive

Matias Ricci | ClimbingClimbing

The two climbers, Alberto Zerain (Spain), and Mariano Galvan (Argentina), went missing while attempting to summit the 8,125 meter (26,656 ft) peak, Mount Nanga Parbat. Pakistan government says that an avalanche killed them, but Mariano’s family ensures that they could still be alive.

Climbers
Nanga Parbat, the “Killer Mountain”. // photo: Ahmed Sajjad Zaidi

What happened

On June 15th, Mariano Galván (37) and Alberto Zerain (55), two experienced climbers from Argentina and Spain, respectively, arrived at base camp of Mount Nanga Parbat, in Pakistan. On June 18, Zerain and Galván began their alpine-style summit attempt. They left advanced base camp with one day of poor weather on the forecast.

Climbers
Mariano Galván, the Argentinean missing climber.

The two climbers camped at 5,600 meters (18,372 ft) on June 19, and prepared to wait out the expected squall. The storm lasted four days rather than one. The climbers sheltered from the wet, heavy snow until the 23rd, before continuing upward.

On June 24, Zerain and Galván reached their highpoint of 6,270 meters (20,570 ft) . Then, the GPS tracker that Zerain carried showed an abrupt 180-meter (590 ft) drop. The tracker transmitted for another 15 hours but Zerain never activated its distress signal.

Military helicopter in Pakistan.

A military helicopter (standard rescue in Pakistan) arrived on the 28th and flew the ridgeline for three hours, although clouds covered the view. On July 1, the rescuers that were in the helicopter determined that the team’s last-known position was in a field of avalanche debris, so they decided to cease the mission. From that moment, Argentinean and Spanish embassies had tried to pursue local authorities to resume the search, but efforts were in vain.

GPS Signals

However, days after the search operation ended, Mariano’s family detected some unusual signals from Zerain’s GPS device. It’s important to say that Mariano was not carrying any tracker device at the time of his disappearance.

The climber’s tracking devices showing movement. // Photo: Mirza Ali

On Tuesday, July 4th, and motivated by Mariano’s family, a group of Argentinean and international climbers, rescuers, geologists, satellite imagery experts, and other professionals undertook a virtual, logistic team, with the only objective of bringing Mariano back home. Quickly, they were able to delimitate the precise area that needed to be photographed by a satellite. With those high resolution pictures, they were going to consider all of the possible escape routes that the climbers could have taken to get out of the Mazeno range.

Galvan’s mom feels that his son is still alive.

Private rescue operation

Even though they didn’t have the photos yet, but knowing that time was running out, Mariano’s family decided to get in touch with a private company from Pakistan, in order to start a new rescue operation. They hired Mirza Ali, an experienced mountaineer. Mirza chose seven of his best sherpals and started one of the most challenging missions of his life: to find and rescue Mariano and Alberto.

Mariano Galván, the Argentinean missing climber.

Yesterday, before leaving towards Mount Nanga Parbat, Mirza posted this messaje on his Facebook account:

“Receiving positive movement of the missing climbers on Mazeno ridge of Nanaga Parbat. The family of Missing climber Mr. Mariano Galvan has requested for a ground search in order to reach the GPS current location. The GPS showing several tracks depict the missing climbers are potentially alive! Me and my team are heading to Mazino ridge tomorrow. While waiting for the team to arrive, I’m arranging logistics… with high hopes, we are moving to the mountain. Please wish the team luck, keep your fingers crossed and pray!” (original text has been modified because of grammar mistakes).

The team of Sherpals that will -hopefully- find the two missing climbers.

Without ignoring the avalanche information provided by the first helicopter reconnaissance, but without reliable evidence of the mountaineer’s death, the Sherpas started their expedition guided by a cartographic plane, based not only on Mariano’s original route, but also on the coordinates thrown by Zerain’s Racetracker device before turning off. Moreover, as soon as the satellite images are ready, they will be sent to Mirza’s phone.

The Sherpas started their expedition guided by a cartographic plane. // photo: Mirza Ali

Mirza is not charging Mariano’s family for the operation. However, he needs to cover the insurance of every member of his team. For that reason, the climber’s family and friends are trying to raise the amount of USD 38,000. It’s important to say that, trusting in the money raise, the sherpals have already started their expedition.

The climbers

Galván and Zerain are both accomplished alpinists. Galván summited seven 8,000 meter peaks without supplemental oxygen, while Zerain climbed ten in the same style. Both climbers completed Everest without oxygen, and together they climbed peaks such as Manaslu (8,163 meters) and Dhaulagiri (8,167 meters).

“When I’m at 8.000+ camps, I have a lot of time to think.” says Mariano. “Sometimes I ask myself: ‘why am I here, suffering, alone and cold, when I could be eating an asado with my friends?‘ But then, quickly, the answer comes to my head: ‘I climb because it is what gives a meaning to my life.'”

Alberto (left) and Mariano (right), the two missing climbers.

The mountain

 Mount Nanga Parbat is the world’s 9th higgest mountain, standing at an altitude of 8.125 meters above sea level. It gained its nickname -‘Killer Mountain’ because more that 30 alpinists died attempting to make summit, before someone finally did it, in 1953. On June 23, 2013, another incident took place: about 15 extremist militants wearing Gilgit Scouts uniforms shot to death ten foreign climbers and one Pakistani guide at Base Camp.
Map showing the location of Mount Nanga Parbat in Pakistan. // source: Google Maps
“I was, once, a victim of the circumstances, until I became the creator of my own objectives. I stopped believing that we’re at the mercy of the conditions (..) and started to build possibilities”. The phrase belongs to Mariano Galván, the missing climber
The mountain that the climbers attempted to summit is also known as the ‘Killer Mountain”

The Mazeno Ridge, first attempted by Doug Scott in 1992 (then again in 1993 and 1995), is long, high, and technical—spanning nine kilometers at around 7,000 meters before joining the main body of Nanga Parbat and continuing to the summit. In a 2013 trip report that appeared in the Alpine Journal, Rick Allen describes the ridge as “without any reasonable prospect of escape to north or south.”

Yo can contribute to the search and rescue operation, by can make a donation so that Mariano’s family can pay Mirza’s expedition and increase efforts and resources. If you cannot help with a donation, you can always share this post! 

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